The War on Robocalls!
It seems congress and industry have finally had enough of robocalls. These are annoying calls from mysterious numbers that come in all hours the day and night. The calls are almost always from someone either trying to sell you something or scam you. What’s worse is that some of these calls also come from groups with a political agenda.
Fines go uncollected
What’s really pathetic is the the government seems absolutely toothless to enforce fines for robocalls. According to the Wall Street Journal since 2015 the Federal Communications Commission has levied $208 million dollars in fines for robocalls. But they have only collected $6,790.
Since 2004 the Federal Trade Commission has secured judgements for violations of the National Do Not Call Registry to the tune of $1.5 billion. But the amount of money they have actually received is less than ten percent of that number or $121 million.
So why can’t the the government make the robocallers pay? According to an FCC spokesman the agency does not have the power to enforce the forfeiture orders. Unpaid penalties are forwarded to Justice Department for collection. But many of the spoofers and robocallers the agency tries to punish are individuals and small companies that are simply unable to pay the big fines.
Stopping robocalls is a tough fight
Another reason you continue to receive robocalls is that they are very profitable. Like the drug business, the penalties are nothing compared to the profits.
Janice Kopec of the FTC said, “We continue to bring cases and shut down as many folks as we can. What we recognized, though, was we shut down an operation and another one springs up behind it almost instantaneously.”
According the call blocking app YouMail close to a billion robocalls were being placed every month in 2015. By 2017 that number has more than doubled to 2.5 billion. Robocalls constitute the top consumer complaint received by the FTC.
Other factors that make robots call hard to fight is that the technology is cheap and the callers are hard to locate. Robocallers can be located anywhere in the world making it almost impossible for the federal government to touch them. Technology also makes locating the caller or the actual number they call from extremely difficult. This is known as number spoofing where the number you see on your phone is not where the call originated.
The fight goes on
But the government and the telecom industry are still fighting back. The FTC launched Operation Call it Quits. The operation includes numerous law enforcement agencies that claim to have stopped more than a billion robocalls.
The FCC announced a new measure that will allow cell carriers to block obvious robocalls without the user having to give permission.
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are considering legislation. In the House the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act would expand the government’s power to limit illegal robocalls. In the Senate, the TRACED Act expands the FCC’s power to punish illegal robocallers by increasing the maximum fines for each robocall and extends the statute of limitations from one to three years.
The telecom industry has been given permission by the FCC to begin blocking robocalls by default. Cell carriers can now deploy technology capable of screening out unwanted calls much the same way spam filters send junk email to a separate folder.
A measure that was recently pass by the U.S. Senate known as Stir/Shaken will require all calls to carry an authentic digital signature that will reveal the actual number the call is coming from and not a spoofed number.